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ART hires renowned British architectural firm to design Allston theater

The Everyman Theatre, in Liverpool, is one of several prominent British theaters designed by Haworth Tompkins, the architecture firm hired to design a new home for the American Repertory Theater in Allston.Haworth Tompkins

One of the leading architects of the London stage is coming to Allston.

The American Repertory Theater has hired the British architecture firm Haworth Tompkins to design the theater it’s planning on Harvard University’s Allston campus.

The ART said Wednesday that Steve Tompkins, a cofounder of the firm who was recently named “the most influential person in British theater” for his work to redevelop several prominent London theaters, will lead the project in Allston.

“Haworth Tompkins’ reputation precedes it as one of the great architectural studios of our time,” said the ART’s artistic director, Diane Paulus. “I look forward to working with . . . Tompkins and the team to create a building that exemplifies our shared vision of the theater as a town hall for the 21st Century.”


In February, the ART announced plans to build a new facility in Allston, across the Charles River from its longtime home in Harvard Square, a project made possible by a $100 million gift from David and Stacey Goel.

Plans are still in the early stages, Paulus said. There’s no specific timeline or price tag, nor has a precise location been disclosed. But bringing in a world-class designer will better enable the ART to design a new home that will serve its future needs, she said.

“This is less about ‘What building are we creating’ and more ‘What is the vision for the experience we want to create,’ ” Paulus said.

“We see the need for the arts to become even more central in our society, as a place for convening and compassionate citizenry, and a public sphere at a time when there are so few places that allow for the imagination of a collective path forward.”

In Haworth Tompkins it has a firm with a long resume of creative theater projects in the United Kingdom, from Liverpool’s Everyman theater to a revitalization of the National Theatre along the Thames River in London to the Bridge Theatre, the first wholly new large theater built in London in 80 years.


The firm’s projects have been widely praised for being democratic and accessible — attributes not always associated with grand British theaters.

This will be its first building in the United States, and it will collaborate with Boston-based ARC/Architectural Resources Cambridge, as well as with the theater consultancy Charcoalblue.

Tompkins said his team will begin by listening to the community of artists at the ART, to Allston residents, and to people at Harvard to better understand the area where the theater will be built and the city as a whole. The aim, he said, is to design a great public space for all.

“A theater is a live interaction of human beings, an increasing rarity,” Tompkins said. “The prospect of a building which can mediate and host that meeting, that contact, is a particularly important project for us.”

Such a process can have a “long gestational period,” he acknowledged, and it’s not clear when the ART might put forth specific designs.

The organization will then need city design approval and permitting, perhaps as part of Harvard’s larger plans for the 36-acre research campus it wants to build south of Western Avenue, or elsewhere on land it controls in Lower Allston.

Tompkins said the new building should be designed to stand out for a century or more, flexible enough to meet many needs and remain relevant.


“That’s part of the challenge and complexity, but also the joy of this project,” he said. “It’s so multi-layered.”

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.